With effect from 29 July 2020, the Hong Kong authorities have announced that crew change arrangements for passenger and goods vessels without cargo operation in Hong Kong will be suspended (see official press release here). There has also been a tightening in the testing requirements and quarantine arrangements for crew members. This follows a previous relaxing of the rules on 9 June, when Hong Kong had introduced unrestricted crew changes.
The new restrictions from 29 July follow a sharp rise in infections in the Hong Kong community, including a number of COVID-19 cases involving sea and air crew. It is thought that these new restrictions will remain in effect until the local epidemic situation is contained.
The Hong Kong government’s announcement was followed by a letter issued jointly on 27 July by the Hong Kong Shipowners Association and the Hong Kong Liner Shipping Association. In this letter both Associations urged the shipping industry to curb “irresponsible behaviour” of some practitioners while performing crew changes in Hong Kong. The Associations call on the shipping community to “strictly follow the rules, protocols and precautionary measures set by the port authorities and shipping companies to protect public health”.
The IMO and the International Labour Organisation require governments to implement measures to enable crew change operations for both safety and employee protection. As highlighted in the letter from the Associations, there are currently approximately 300,000 seafarers trapped at sea and unable to return home after many months at sea. This follows the lockdowns and severe travel restrictions that followed the outbreak of COVID-19.
While crew change operations play a fundamental role in relieving crews in these circumstances, on 20 July the Associations had asked their members to reschedule or postpone crew changes by at least 3 weeks, due to the rise in the number of local infections.
The letter concluded with these remarks:
“Once again, we would like to stress that like other “key workers”, seafarers are essential for the global community, including Hong Kong people, to fight this battle against the virus. Without these heroes at sea, world trade would come to a screeching halt. If any of them are unfortunately infected, they deserve our support, not bias.”
A full copy of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association can be found here.
Regrettably, the rise in the infection rate in Hong Kong reflects a recent wider resurgence and further “wave” of the virus in a number of other countries, including China, South Korea and parts of Europe.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause severe disruption to the shipping industry, we are continually monitoring developments and will provide all further updates on our blog.
If you have any questions regarding any legal issues in this area, please do get in touch.